Strategies for Seeking the Lost

Depiction of the Good Shepherd by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne. (Wikimedia Commons)

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

All of the talks in the Sunday morning session of the October 1971 General Conference were wonderful, but the one I’d like to write about today is Elder Paul H. Dunn’s What is a Teacher? In his talk, Elder Dunn focuses on the three parables of Luke 15: the lost sheep, the piece of silver, and the prodigal son.

Elder Dunn said the he often wondered why the Lord had repeated the same basic message using three different parables. I have never wondered that. I figured it was just for emphasis, or perhaps with the intention that different audiences would relate better to different stories. But, as this example shows, the scriptures often reward those who push a little harder to understand what is going on. Thus, Elder Dunn: “And then one day it dawned. People do get lost in various ways, and here in this great chapter of Luke we find the Savior counseling how to recover them.”

The message of the first story, of the lost sheep, is that some people get lost simply because they get confused. And for those, the solutions are “Family, service, [and] brotherhood… Feeding… brings them home.”

The message of the second story, of the lost coin, is that sometimes “responsible agents… let these priceless gems slip through their fingers.” I thought this was an especially poignant way of looking at the fate of some of those who wander astray. Elder Dunn says that we can’t recover these ones the way we recover a confused sheep. “Love, care, and attention would be the process used to recover lost coins.”

Finally, and most tragically, some are lost because “their free agency takes them down that path.” In this case, “we can’t do a lot… except open our arms and our church doors and let them know they are wanted.”

As part of writing this post, I looked up Elder Dunn on Wikipedia. It turns out that he is a controversial figure, and so I thought that was worth mentioning as well. He liked to embellish his General Conference talks with personal stories that were not true. Ultimately, in 1991, he wrote an open letter to all members (with permission of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve) in which he stated that “I have not always been accurate in my public talks and writings, [and] I have indulged in other activities inconsistent with the high and sacred officer which I have held.” He asked for forgiveness and even stated that the General Authorities, after an investigation, “have censured me and placed a heavy penalty upon me.”

I don’t know what the “other activities” were, nor what the “heavy penalty” was, but I thought it was worth pointing out to show that all of us can wonder and become lost. No one is immune, and that is worth keeping in mind so that we can exercise humility in our own lives and find compassion for those who stumble. (Which, at one time or another, is all of us.)

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!